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A complete look at assessment in education

Read a complete overview of student assessment in schools, including why it’s important, see real examples, and find out how to boost assessment outcomes.


Why is student assessment important?

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Types of assessment

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Improving assessment

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Assessment at KS1 and KS2

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The benefits of instant assessment

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How tech aids formative assessment

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How tech aids summative assessment

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In education, it is common for teachers to evaluate their pupils with exams, tests, projects and papers. These formal student assessments are usually in the middle or at the end of a year, term or semester.

While important for ongoing learning, this type of assessment can sometimes lead to a gap in educators’ knowledge on helping student improve. Class observations, meanwhile, provide insightful feedback about students’ motivation and engagement, but don’t always indicate how much knowledge students are retaining. Informal assessment, therefore, is an important, ongoing process to establish how each pupil is progressing on a particular topic.

Student assessment, then, should be approached from multiple angles, using different mediums and approaches to capture the most holistic information. This guides teachers in adjusting ongoing learning and teaching to improve students’ achievement of learning outcomes, enables predictions for attainment levels and helps form the overall school strategy.

Why is student assessment important?

Assessment is a core pillar in a child’s education. It provides evidence that the acquisition of knowledge and skills is being retained.

Student assessment is also essential to improving the overall education landscape. As the World Bank highlights,

“Assessment of student learning is a powerful agent for change in schools by informing policymakers about the learning outcomes of the nation’s students, helping teachers understand how to improve classroom instruction, and influencing societies as they think about education quality and learning goals.” World Bank

Read more about improving student assessment processes in your school in our blog.

What are the types of student assessment?

Formative assessment and summative assessment are the two principal ways of establishing and analysing pupil progress.

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative. When the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.” Robert E. Stake, Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Illinois

Schools sometimes lack clarity around the differences between the two, the most effective types of summative assessment, or creative methods of formative assessment.

Types of summative assessment:

  • End-of-term or midterm exams
    Cumulative work over an extended period such as a final project or creative portfolio
    End-of-unit or chapter tests
    Standardised tests that demonstrate school accountability are used for pupil admissions; SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels

Types of formative assessment:

  • Impromptu quizzes or anonymous voting
  • Short comparative assessments to see how pupils are performing against their peers
  • One-minute papers on a specific subject matter
  • Lesson exit tickets to summarise what pupils have learnt
  • Silent classroom polls
  • A visualisation or doodle map of what they learnt
  • A concept map to represent understanding of a topic
  • One or two sentences to identify main points of discussion

Overall, a comprehensive student assessment program balances formative with summative student assessment techniques for holistic learning insight.

Read about the differences between formative and summative assessment, and how they should complement each other.

How can schools improve assessment?

63% of teachers are using technology to track formal assessment with only 35% using it to track informal assessment. State of Technology in Education, 2017/18

While standardised testing is essential for benchmarking purposes, national exams leave little room for adaptation or creativity. Yet a midterm assessment or a project final could be tasked as a visual presentation, a long-form test, or an individual essay to inject some creativity.

“The biggest benefit will come when leaders and policy makers start to hold parents and pupils to account for accessing online homework, assessments and teaching resources. At present it remains the teachers’ “fault” if pupils don’t engage.”Teacher, State of Technology in Education, 2017/18

Meanwhile, by giving pupils the scope to discuss material in a medium they feel comfortable with, such as mobile devices or on interactive front of class technology, teachers get a more accurate picture of their pupils’ motivation and understanding.

But are there more fundamental problems with student assessment procedures?

Despite recent announcements of formal changes to exams and other summative assessment, schools can still take steps to gain control of the formative assessment processes.

With access to technology that provides quality, collated assessment data, teachers can use to plan future lessons, and identify and address the needs of students.

Read more about the potential to improve student assessment processes in your school.

Teacher assessment at key stage 1 and 2

The Standards and Testing Agency is the body that outlines the required tests to assess children in education, from early years to the end of key stage 2.

The assessment benchmarks are:

  • Working towards the expected standard
    Working at the expected standard
    Working at greater depth within the expected standard

To guide teachers on these benchmarks, there are examples of work that can support teacher assessments at the end of key stage 1 and key stage 2.

The Standards and Testing Agency have published these materials to show examples of pupils work to support teachers in making judgements against the new statutory teacher assessment frameworks.

Each example is based on real students’ work but the names have been changed to ensure the study is anonymous.

Read more about the teacher assessment exemplifications:
KS1 English
KS2 English

The benefits of instant assessment

The purpose of instant assessment is to give teachers and pupils access to instant information, enabling educators to respond quickly to students’ strengths and challenges.

The capability of automatic responses motivates both pupils and teachers. According to teachers, pupils are always keen to understand where they’ve performed well, and it inspires engagement on a particular subject.

“95% of my students are coming in with a mobile; as long as they’re responsible I’d love them to use it in the classroom.” Gary Matthews, Subject Leader for Biology, Walton High in Milton Keynes

Watch our video to find out what teachers believe are the benefits of instant assessment.

How does technology aid formative assessment?

Unlike summative assessment, commonly gathered at the end of a project or course, formative assessment allows pupils to be continually appraised.

“I occasionally use offline resources as they are more tangible, and I can personalise more effectively. However I like handing out work online, students complete it, and it all sits in one folder for quick assessment.” Teacher, State of Technology in Education, 2017/18

Accurate information about a student’s current level of understanding, is, therefore, crucial to ensuring that all pupils achieve their full potential. Technology can help informal assessment in five ways:

  • Increased flexibility with how assessments are completed
  • Improved scope of feedback and real-time assessment
  • Catering for mixed-ability classes and ensuring differentiation
  • Allows pupils to communicate emotions in a more private way
  • Consolidating a pupil’s learning and work in one location

Interactive front of class displays, like the Promethean ActivPanel that’s powered by a mini Android PC, provide a seamless and efficient tool for teachers to formatively assess their pupils.

Read more about how technology like ActivPanels can help schools with formative assessment processes.

Can technology help with summative assessment?

Summative assessment like end of school reports and exams create a huge amount of work. Teachers feel increasingly stretched, expected to make hundreds of student assessments at the busiest time of the academic year.

Under the pressure to make so many assessments, teachers often use banks of reporting phrases to save time. This leaves parents feeling short-changed, believing the education system has been cheapened by technology and filled with ‘edubabble’.

“We would like to start tracking pupils work and progress online in our subject, so we are able to store more videos and audio recordings.” Teacher, State of Technology in Education, 2017/18

With interest in online assessment increasing, most teachers have come to understand the benefits of technology for assessment.

Used thoughtfully, however, technology can facilitate the creation of up-to-date student assessments and provides pupils with immediate feedback, promoting positive performance and rewarding outstanding behaviour.

Read more about how technology can aid summative assessment in schools.